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Former Husky becomes overnight sensation for Mars mission

UW grad Bobak Ferdowsi's hair has gotten almost as much attention as the successful landing of NASA's Curiosity rover (AP)

Few people knew about Bobak Ferdowsi before Sunday night's highly watched landing of NASA's Mars Curiosity rover. Now, the University of Washington grad is an overnight star, thanks as much to his hair as his accomplishments.

The former Husky took center stage as the mission reached its critical juncture. You couldn't miss the mohawk with maroon highlights and golden stars shaved into his head, especially during the final moments when a decade of work and $2.5 billion were on the line.

He describes his role as similar to that of Ed Harris in Apollo 13. Throughout the evening pictures and videos of him helping lead the mission went viral, and his Twitter feed has now gone from just a few hundred followers to over 18,000.

"I definitely didn't expect to wake up seeing it all over the Internet today," Ferdowsi said of his image, speaking to Ross and Burbank in an interview Monday morning.

He admitted there was plenty of pressure, then relief, when Curiosity beamed back the first pictures from 352 million miles away.

"It's just an incredible kind of nervousness followed by this amazing moment of elation," he said of the mission. "The number of things that have to go right there for that to work, and so many of them you only get one chance."

Ferdowsi joined NASA after graduating from the University of Washington nearly a decade ago. The outlandish hair is a bit more recent. He's had different looks for major milestones throughout the lead up to Sunday night's landing.

"The mohawk more or less stays there the whole time. But I thought I was kind of being subtle with this one. The stars were like a little tribute, but the team actually voted on this," He said.

Activity lead Bobak Ferdowsi, center, wipes tears away after a successful landing inside the Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times-POOL)

It was a proud moment not only for Ferdowsi but the number of other UW grads he works with, telling Ross and Burbank they took a moment during the celebration to snap a group picture.

Now that he's an overnight sensation, are a slew of science-minded female followers soon behind? Ferdowsi said he's got a girlfriend, although he's barely had any time to see her with everything going on.

"For me, I'm still just kind of getting over the whole 'We made it to Mars thing,'" Ferdowsi laughed.

And after what he described as getting "little more than a nap," he's back on the job, and the task at hand.

"What we're looking for with Curiosity is habitability. Do the other things that life require to exist, are they there on Mars and could Mars have hosted life?" he said that's a big thing they want to find out.

By JOSH KERNS, Reporter.

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Josh Kerns, KIRO Radio Reporter
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. He covers everything from May Day riots in Seattle to the latest Boeing news.